I HAVE always prided myself on being a Do-It-Yourself kind of girl (I still remember how to use a jigsaw and wire a lamp from my school days) – but my handiness has its limitations.
Auto mechanics, for instance, has always been beyond my scope. And ever since I moved to Siem Reap, any visit to a motorbike repair shop has been like observing some foreign brand of black magic.
The mechanics seem to have a sixth sense when it comes to finding tyre leaks, adjusting a chain or producing a new washer out of scrap metal. And no matter what the problem is, they always fix it for about 2,000 riels. I am often astonished by their talent, but when our moto developed a coughing sound earlier this week, I resolved to fix it myself.
My friend Chhen was trained in motorbike repair and he agreed to give me some tips. His brother-in-law works as the local mechanic for one of the villages outside of Angkor, and we went to his house so we would have the necessary tools at our disposal.
Chhen already had a pretty good idea what was wrong, but first he showed me how to change the oil and tighten the brakes. Rainy season, he told me, was hell on brakes. I nodded, pretending to know exactly what he meant, and squatting there, sifting through a toolbox to find the right wrench, I began to feel like a real mechanic.
Next, we tackled the noise.
“I think maybe it is this,” Chhen said, gesturing toward the exhaust pipe, “because it is so loud.” Of course! The muffler! I should have been able to diagnose the problem guided by my ears alone; the moto sounded decidedly un-muffled, after all. Actually reaching the muffler, however, locked inside its web of connected motorbike parts, was another matter altogether. We unscrewed the side body pieces, and a few bolts from the bottom of the moto, and then some more screws here and there. The moto lay in pieces around the yard, though we hadn’t really accomplished much.
By then it was the middle of the afternoon, and my sweaty efforts were attracting a crowd. Nine adults, five children, two dogs, and one cow had gathered round to discuss my progress.
At one point, a woman showed up to sell snacks to the crowd, and just as I began to worry that they would soon start setting up bleachers and selling tickets, we arrived at the heart of the problem.
“Ooooh,” Chhen said in a high-pitched, excited voice, “is broken.” I didn’t really understand what I was looking at until Chhen pointed to a large muddy crack where the muffler attached to the underside of the bike. It didn’t look good. It would need a new metal piece welded on to cover the crack, which would have to be done at one of the larger repair shops in town.
This left me with the rather depressing task of trying to remember how to reassemble the motorbike, even though nothing had been fixed. I think I did a fair job, though Chhen kept checking and tightening screws whenever he thought I wasn’t looking.
When the bike was once again in one piece, we started the engine, and it was louder than when I had begun the project. Though at first I felt a little defeated at this outcome, I realised on the ride home that my repair job makes the bike sound more like a Harley than a Honda Dream. I think I like its new roar; I haven’t taken it in to be fixed yet.